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'Victims must remain at centre of accountability efforts'

Processes in Sri Lanka towards accountability and justice must keep victims at the centre, said Dharsha Jegatheeswaran in an article for the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s Rights Review Magazine.

Commenting on the erosion of victims’ confidence since UN Resolution 30/1, alongside the government’s reneging on its commitments thereunder, Ms Jegatheeswaran said,

“Initial cautious hopes of Tamil victims and war-affected communities have turned to distrust and skepticism of the government’s intentions as a result of this mixed messaging. This distrust has been further deepened by the government’s failure to undertake any meaningful confidence-building measures and address ongoing human rights violations, including: demilitarizing the North-East; repealing the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and releasing all political prisoners arrested thereunder; returning all illegally acquired lands; and ending a culture of impunity/condonation for sexual violence and torture.”

Specifically looking at the need for demilitarisation she added,

“Demilitarization is an especially necessary pre-requisite to any meaningful form of accountability and justice. The continued militarization of the North-East is directly linked to ongoing human rights violations, including sexual violence and torture, and implicitly creates a climate of intimidation and fear that would dissuade many victims and witnesses from coming forward to any form of judicial mechanism or truth commission.”

Noting that while the Task Force on Consultations is a positive first step, Ms. Jegatheeswaran wrote of concerns about the representativeness of the Task Force and said,“[c]onsultations must be meaningful, wide-reaching and accessible, not mere window-dressing to satisfy international actors that progress is being made.”

“On an island that has had an inordinate amount of corrupt and discredited commissions and inquiries, that is still governed by majoritarian politics, and that has still arguably not seen significant progress on human rights, it is simply too early to deem anything a success. Countries should continue to pressure the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its commitments under Resolution 30/1, and avoid prematurely heralding Sri Lanka as a model for other countries, as some have done.”

See the full article here.